I am very lucky to live in Taunton, Somerset. Mum and I have lived here for almost 3 years now, and we do so most happily.
Taunton has a wonderful museum. I love the area just outside its doors; there you are surrounded on all sides by historical architecture. If you can block out the few people relaxing outside with their coffee and cake, you can feel the past right there with you, very tangibly!
Taunton Castle Museum
Today mum and I were there, on the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's passing, to listen to a talk given by Mark Simmons, who was Project Manager at Basildon Park, Berkshire, during the house's use as one of the film locations (Mr. Bingley's 'Netherfield Park') for the 2005 'Pride & Prejudice' film.
Interior of Basildon Park, Reading in the 2005 film Pride & Prejudice
I wasn't sure what to expect, but we had a very interesting hour's talk. Now I am not a fan of the film. Keira Knightly and her cropped hair, which sticks out at the nape of her neck, under the wig she is wearing ruined it for me. You cannot beat the 1995 BBC series, the 'real deal'. Nope, not going to happen, please don't try again. From the casting to the costumes to the adaptation it was simply fabulous.
Anyhow, as someone who once dreamed of working for The National Trust, it was fascinating to hear the pleasures (few and far between), and the pains (including 14 hour days) of the onerous task that is allowing a film crew onto the grounds and into the house of Basildon Park. I certainly would not like to take the responsibility, and feel that Mark was indeed a very brave man to have done so. There was much discussion firstly to decide whether or not to agree to have the filming take place there at all. Would the disruption and the closure of the house for many weeks during The National Trust's 'season' be worth it? Thankfully it was: with a huge increase in visitor numbers post film and money given to aid the coffers, in the end all was well.
But the work it took! Once the many-paged contract had been finally agreed upon and signed, it took 2 weeks to remove all the contents of the rooms that were needed, and pack it all carefully away, including a 60ft carpet which had to be carefully rolled and then removed from a room on one floor, out through the window and into the room directly below it. The room in the photo still above actually has red velvet walls. This style of interior was not used in the early 1800s, so those walls were protected, and then another room had to be built directly into the room, 6 feet away from the velvet wall. The care that had to be taken over every item was quite astonishing. This included the huge chandelier which had to be removed - one 'drop' at a time!
Basildon Park, Reading
So after everything was safely stored, the film crew descended. It must have been a very nerve wracking time for Mark. He was only 28, and had no prior experience of this type of project. When it was being discussed with the powers that be at The National Trust whether or not to allow the house to be used for such a purpose, he was told that if he thought he could do it, then to go for it. I'm not sure I would have had such confidence, so good for him. There were of course, a few 'unscripted' occurrences, such as outside flames being used without any prior consent, and one artefact outside unfortunately being reversed into, but all ended (mostly) well. The crew came, they went, they conquered?! It was then another 2 weeks the other side of the shoot to get everything back to normal, and in shipshape and Bristol fashion once again.
For me, the overridingly fascinating conundrum was that the film company (Working Title) even used real marble to cover a table top in one of the rooms, but neglected to cover the lead's spiky hair at the nape of her neck!! What a shame....
Keira's short hair poking out below the wig. It is in almost every scene with her.
Months after the film's release, Basildon Park ran an exhibition displaying costumes, furniture and other props and images from the film:-
An exhibition which focuses on the making of the film has been running at Basildon Park in Pangbourne, Berkshire.
The 18th Century house, which is run by the National Trust, saw the flood of visitors in just five weeks.
Managers at the property normally expect to see about 50,000 visitors a year passing through its doors.
Earlier this year, they made an urgent appeal for volunteers to help deal with the expected surge in visitors.
Mark Simmons, the house's visitor services manager, said: "It has been great to see so many people visit the property and find out what went on when filming took place here.
"The exhibition really has been a runaway success."
In the film, starring Keira Knightley, Basildon House becomes Netherfield, the home of Mr Bingley.
(BBC news article on their website, dated Tuesday, 25th of October, 2005).